Russian Man Faces 12 Years In Prison In Belarus Over Anti-Lukashenka Activities

MINSK -- A Russian citizen has gone on trial in Minsk for his alleged actions against the rule of Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The trial of 21-year-old Yegor Dudnikov started on December 20. He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

According to the Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group, Judge Syarhey Khrypach ruled that the trial will be held behind closed doors "to prevent the spread of extremist materials."

Dudnikov was arrested in May and eventually charged with inciting hatred and calling for actions to hurt Belarus.

The charges stem from Dudnikov allegedly taking part in preparing online materials in connection with unprecedented mass rallies in Belarus protesting official results of the August 2020 presidential election that handed Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term in office.

Investigators say that from January until May, Dudnikov placed at least 55 posts about the protests on the Telegram channel administered by the so-called Groups of Civic Self-Defense of Belarus (OGSB), an organization labeled as extremist and banned in Belarus in the aftermath of the protests.

Dudnikov said earlier that police severely beat him after they arrested him on May 5.

Dudnikov is one of dozens in Belarus who have faced trial in recent months after authorities brutally suppressed dissent in any form following last year's presidential election.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged to extend Lukashenka's 26-year rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.

With materials provided by the Vyasna human rights center